Georgia tasked with rebuilding backfield as Zamir White, James Cook depart for 2022 NFL Draft
Georgia will enter next season in the follow-up effort to its national championship run without its top two running backs from 2021. Redshirt junior Zamir White announced Friday that he has declared for the 2022 NFL Draft, joining his teammate James Cook, who declared earlier in the week.
“This season was an absolute thrill from start to finish and bringing a national championship to Athens was the ultimate reward,” wrote White on his Instagram page. “I am so proud and feel so blessed to be a part of this team … these are memories I will never forget and will surely last a lifetime. It’s what prepared me for this next step and I proudly announce my intention to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft.”
White rushed for a team-best 856 yards and 11 touchdowns on 8.3 yards per carry this past season, while Cook, a senior, added 728 yards rushing and seven scores. White posted 84 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 33-18 win over Alabama to bring the first national championship to Athens since the 1980 season.
The Laurinburg, North Carolina, native finishes his collegiate career with 2,043 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns. With White and Cook heading to the NFL, Georgia has a large hole to fill in its backfield this offseason.
Rebuilding a backfield
White and Cook were the primary forces in Georgia’s run-based offensive system. The duo combined for nearly 1,600 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry in 2021. In fact, White and Cook alone had more rushing attempts (273) than Georgia had pass completions (264).
While the former top-50 recruits are off to the NFL, Georgia has plenty of talented options from which to choose. Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards are blue-chip talents, each of whom had at least 49 rushing attempts on the year. The Dawgs also have national top-50 running back recruit Branson Robinson entering the program as part of the 2022 Class.
Star offensive tackle Jamaree Salyer has committed to the Senior Bowl, while starting guard Justin Shaffer is a senior. However, the offense’s three other starting linemen are expected to return. Georgia’s recruiting, experience and depth should accommodate for a powerful running unit in 2022.
Draft questions for both
White was ranked the No. 1 running back and No. 9 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class, but struggled to find a way onto the field after tearing both of his ACLs in back-to-back seasons. He fully recovered from the injuries and became a major rotation player, but his injury history could become a concern as he enters the NFL Draft. White does not rank among the top 150 players in the CBS Sports Prospect Rankings. Getting some independent medical evaluation could help push him back up boards.
For Cook, the question will likely be more about sample size. While he finished second on the team in rushing and had a game-breaking 67-yard run in the College Football Playoff National Championship, he had just 117 rushing attempts heading into his senior season. At the same time, the lack of wear could ultimately prove to be an advantage.